What is a web server and what software solutions exist?

Web servers are used to store Internet content and facilitate its availability in a constant and secure way. When you visit a web page from your browser, it is actually a web server that sends the individual components of that page directly to your computer. This means that for a web page to be accessible at any time, the web server must be permanently online.
What is a web server and what software solutions exist?
What is a web server and what software solutions exist?
Every page accessible on the Internet needs a special server for its web content. Often, large companies and organizations have their own web server to arrange their content on the Internet and Intranet. 
However, most administrators use the data centers of web hosting providers for their projects. Regardless of whether you have your own web server or if you rent an external one, you will always need software to manage your page data and keep it updated. 
In this sense, you have the choice between several software solutions for web servers designed for different applications and operating systems.

  1. Web server: definition and history
  2. The technology behind web servers
  3. Other functions of web servers
  4. Free software solutions for web servers
  5. How to find the appropriate web server and configure it
  6. How does a web server operate?

Web server: definition and history

Web servers (also known as HTTP servers) are a type of servers used for the distribution (delivery) of web content on internal networks or on the Internet ("server" refers to the verb "serve"). As part of a computer network, a web server transfers documents to so-called clients, for example, a web page to a browser.
In general, the question “what is a web server” can refer to two things: the server software (that is, the program itself) and the computer on which the web server software is running. 
When it comes to the latter, the host is talked about (a host can host multiple software solutions for web servers). Next, we will explicitly refer to any of these meanings, either the web server software or HTTP server software (or program) or the host.
The development of web servers is closely linked to British physicist and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, who in 1989 suggested that the exchange of information at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) should be done through an easier hypertext system and fast. In 1990, together with Robert Cailliau, he presented a project from which and over time, together with the first web server, called “CERN httpd”, the first web browser and other basic Internet elements such as HTML were also created and HTTP. This is how Berners-Lee is today considered the founder of the Internet.

Web server: definition and history

The technology behind web servers
Mainly, the software of an HTTP server is responsible for providing the data for viewing web content. To do this, the program communicates with a web client (usually a browser or a search engine crawler).
To open a web page, the user only has to write the corresponding URL in the address bar of his web browser. The browser sends a request to the web server, who responds, for example, by delivering an HTML page. 
This can be hosted as a static document on the host or generated dynamically, which means that the web server has to execute a program code (e.g., Java or PHP) before processing its response. The browser interprets the response, which usually generates more requests to the server about, for example, integrated images or CSS files.
The protocol used for transmission is HTTP (or its HTTPS encrypted variant), which is based, in turn, on the IP and TCP network protocols (and very rarely on UDP ). 
A web server can deliver the contents simultaneously to several computers or web browsers. The number of requests (requests) and the speed with which they can be processed depends, among other things, on the host hardware and load (number of requests). 
However, the complexity of the content also plays an important role: dynamic web content needs more resources than static content.
The selection of the appropriate equipment for the server and the decision of whether it should be dedicated, virtual or in the cloud, should always be done thinking about avoiding server overloads. 
Remember that, even if you have found a web server that adapts perfectly to the needs of your project, you always run the risk of faults in it as a result of technical inaccuracies or power outages in the host data center. 
Although it is not very frequent, during a period of inactivity of this type (downtime), the web will not be available unless it is run on a device with a connection to a Content Delivery Network, something not very usual in the case of small websites.

Other functions of web servers

Although its main function is the transfer of web content, many web server programs offer additional features:

Security: Encryption of communication between the web server and the client via HTTPS
User Authentication: HTTP authentication for specific areas of a web application
Redirection: Redirect a document request through Rewrite Engine
Caching: Caching dynamic documents for efficient request response and to prevent web server overload
Assignment of cookies: Sending and processing HTTP cookies
In addition to the server software, a host may contain other types of programs, such as an FTP server for uploading files or a database server for dynamic content (although for this purpose, any professional host will offer additional hardware).
In general, there are different types of web servers that can be used for numerous purposes, for example, mail servers, game servers or proxy servers.

Free software solutions for web servers

The range of programs to run a web server is very wide and some are available for free on the Internet. The only condition is obviously that the software is compatible with the host operating system. Most web servers are based on UNIX, that is, Linux, but they also run on Windows, with the exception of Windows IIS, which is only executable on Windows servers.

Apache HTTP Server: The Apache web server is permanently developed as an open source program available in numerous versions. This modular program is executable in virtually any operating system and is the most used web server. It is appropriate for dynamic web content, as it facilitates the integration of programming languages ​​such as PHP and Apache can run other programs under the CGI interface. To facilitate the installation of an Apache web server, which can be very complex, you can use software solutions such as XAMPP or LAMP, which are largely responsible for your configuration. In addition to Apache, these solutions also contain various programming languages, as well as the most suitable software for database management.
Lately, compared to its competitors, Apache HTTP has lost points in terms of speed. Many alternative products are already characterized by shorter response times during data transmission. 

Apache Tomcat: in this case it is an open source web server developed in the Java environment. Who wants to create web content with Java, you will find the ideal solution in Apache Tomcat. It is also possible to integrate another server through an AJP connector (eg, an Apache HTTP or Microsoft IIS server).

nginx: nginx goes beyond a traditional open source web server. It offers, among other things, a reverse proxy to reduce server load and allow you to work faster. In the past, nginx never stopped gaining popularity.

Microsoft IIS: Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) is a server software package that includes a web server. In the beginning, IIS was an integral part of Windows Server systems, now, if necessary, it is possible to install the program on some Windows operating systems. Microsoft IIS can only be used on Windows servers.

LiteSpeed ​​Web Server: This web server software for UNIX and Linux has an open source program, a free version and an enterprise version. LiteSpeed ​​Web Server stands out for its high speed in data transmission, especially in its version for companies.
Typically, the administration of a web server software is done remotely from another computer, controlling it through a remote access software that does not necessarily require the same host operating system. One of the most recognized programs of this type is Plesk, a software that allows you to manage UNIX, Linux and Windows systems from any computer. In other words, Plesk allows you to control a Linux web server from a Windows computer and vice versa.

How to find the appropriate web server and configure it

If you want to get a web server for your online project, the first thing you will need is a host with enough web space. One of the most popular options is to rent server resources from a provider. Especially those users with little or no knowledge in server management can opt for options such as shared hosting or managedcloud hosting and thus configure their own web server. Unlike servers with root access, in which the user not only has all access rights, but also full responsibility for server security, with managed hosting the host takes care of much of the basic administration. Here, the user does not have to take care of aspects such as software and security updates and can additionally equip his server with the programs he wants. In shared hosting you don't have to worry about software updates and, in addition, you have access to the web space and the configuration options provided by the provider you choose.
Normally, web servers are rented for a monthly fee. The costs depend on the performance and size of individual components such as the capacity and performance of the computer (CPU and RAM), the web space and the type of storage on the hard disk ( SSD or HHD). Who wants flexibility for the capacity of your web server should opt for cloud hosting. With this, the performance of the components can be modified to adapt to the current needs of the online project at any time.

The performance of the different components of the host depends on the needs of the website. An inexpensive and low-performance hosting package is perfect for projects such as a small blog or a website that serves as a business card on the Internet. On the contrary, large online portals or web pages with many contents demand many more components. 
Also consider that certain web applications require a volume of data transfer greater than others: so that the transfer of files is not slower than normal, those platforms that make available the download of content need a higher speed in terms of data traffic. 
On the other hand, if a website implements many multimedia files such as videos or music, the traffic volume must be appropriate, otherwise the server is overloaded. This is why, in order to prevent these scenarios, it is necessary to choose an unlimited traffic rate with the chosen provider. Thus, you will be guaranteeing that the data traffic of your website always enjoys the capacity it needs.

Once you have found the appropriate server for your project, you can configure the corresponding HTTP software. Remember that even using a managed server, you will have to take care of certain security aspects that you cannot lose sight of for hosting your website.
Once you have chosen and configured your web server, you have to keep it updated. The outdated versions represent an attack opportunity for cybercriminals and hackers who, in the worst case scenario, could take control over your web server. In shared and managed hosting, providers usually handle most security measures, otherwise, this task is completely in your hands.
In addition to permanent updates, the implementation of a hardware firewall is a great help in protecting your system from intrusion. Establishing a demilitarized zone (DMZ) is also very useful. In addition, there are frameworks such as Fail2ban that help you protect your server from unauthorized access.
Another of the principles of the security of a web server is to assign to its administrator only those functions that are absolutely necessary or close all ports and cancel unnecessary services. Additionally, creating and using secure passwords is one of the basic security measures for the care of a server. Remember that it is important to have an efficient, reliable and qualified customer support, so if questions arise or emergency situations arise you will not be drifting. This is helpful especially for less experienced administrators.
If your hosting provider is not completely responsible for the protection of your web server, you will surely need some know-how to manage and maintain your server, as well as basic knowledge in the operation of a host. An alternative to take charge is to learn from trial and error with a server in a closed network where you do not have to worry about any type of cyberattack by third parties.


How does a web server operate?

Web servers work under the client-server model. For example, if to visit the Tukwaweb homepage you enter the domain “www.tukwaweb.tech" in the address bar of your browser, the following process will take place:

As soon as you start typing the address in the address bar, your browser sends the information to a domain name server (also known as a DNS server). As a fundamental part of the Domain Name System (DNS), the central directory on the Internet, a domain name server has access to the complete address book on the Internet. Then, the alphanumeric domain name (www.tukwaweb.tech) is converted to a numerical IP address and sent back to the browser.
Then, the browser makes a request for the contents of the website. This is done by contacting the web server with the numerical IP address obtained in the
The web server responds to the request by sending a document of the requested web page to the browser. Subsequently, the browser sends a request back to the web server, this time for another document that is also part of the requested web. This process is repeated until all the elements have been transferred and the web is completely displayed in the browser. Now, if you click on one of the links on the tukwaweb homepage, a new request will be made to the web server, starting the process again.
Do you feel that you do not have enough information or knowledge about a web server and prefer to rent it? Regardless of whether it is a dedicated server, a cloud server or a virtual server.
 Read More: Types of web hosting


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